Most moviegoers attending the recent film “Don Juan De Marco” must have posed the question at least once: Who, in fact, was Don Juan?
It’s one of those kinds of questions that pops up nearly every day, if you listen for it. It comes up in conversation, in a movie, on a television show or, especially, in a book or magazine. In Don Juan’s case, it concerns a literary figure and whether that figure has a basis in fact or fiction.
But the question also can be broader. It can encompass a literary style, a specific novel, an author or favorite character, an era or school of thought.
Even obsessive readers have trouble with some literary references. How many of you, for example, know that the term “magical realism” was first connected with literature in the 1940s by Cuban novelist Alejo Carpentier?
How many know that the form, which is marked by the use of fantasy as an alternative to drab reality, is still used by such Latin American greats as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende?
Well, you would if you consulted a copy of Merriam-Webster’s “Encyclopedia of Literature” (1,236 pages, $39.95). Here, in abbreviated form, is everything you ever wanted to know about world literature.
Say you hear some critic compare an episode of “Roseanne” to “King Lear.” Turn to page 634 and read about Shakespeare’s five-act tragedy.
Say someone describes your memo as “Haiku-like.” Turn to page 507 and read about Japanese poetry.
Say someone refers to you as a “Walter Mitty.” Turn to page 768 and read about the fictional character, or turn to page 1,113 and read about his creator, James Thurber.
Cheap at its list price of just less than $40, this is an entire education in one volume. It’s perfect either for the innately curious or the incurably academic.
And as for Don Juan? Turn to page 337 and read for yourself.
On the Shelf
Janet Campbell Hale, whose memoir “Bloodlines” is a gripping look at child abuse from a Native American’s perspective, enjoys her share of admirers.
Among them are the editors at HarperPerennial, who just republished her first novel, “The Owl’s Song” (153 pages, $11 paperback). Originally published by Doubleday in 1974, “The Owl’s Song” is a young-adult story about an Indian boy’s struggle to come of age in the big city after the death of his mother.
“Authentic in language and realistic in treatment of its theme, this is a stark social commentary on racial and youthful alienation,” wrote a reviewer for Booklist.
Hale, perhaps best known for her critically acclaimed novel “The Jailing of Cecelia Capture,” lives in New York. She is a member of the Coeur d’Alene tribe.
Prolific writer Mitch Finley, a Spokane free-lancer who specializes in Catholic issues, has seen the paperback issue of his new book “The Gospel Truth: Living for Real in an Unreal World” (Crossroad Publishing, 95 pages, $7.95).
And anyone familiar with religious books may find the book’s introduction a bit surprising. In it, Finley uses what some might consider a risque storyline to make a point about the rewards he sees waiting for those who accept the tenets of Christianity.
Yet don’t be put off; this is a serious work. As Finley writes, “This book is about living an authentic Christian life in a world frequently unsympathetic to such a project.”
Spokane writer Kim Allen Kelley, author of the self-published sci-fi novel “The Emperor’s Thorn” (202 pages, $14.95 paperback), has placed copies of his book at various Spokane locations, including Auntie’s Bookstore, Gusdorf’s Books and Hastings Books.
At this stage
Sunday-night gatherings have become virtual literary events at the Anaconda Grille. From performance art to confessional poetry, the small space at 510 S. Freya - which organizer Terry Trueman calls the Anaconda Espresso and Poetry - attracts a collection of area writers who share their works weekly.
The works of three Spokane writers - Trueman, Tom Davis and Zack Carpenter - will be featured during tonight’s presentation of one-act plays. Titled “Dessert Readers Theatre,” the plays will be performed by a selection of actors beginning at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6.
Admission is free, although espresso drinks will be for sale and donations are appreciated.
The reader board
Poet George Perrault, a writing instructor at Gonzaga University, will read from his collections “Curved Like an Eye” and “Trying to Be Round” at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Auntie’s Bookstore, Main and Washington.
Virginia Essene, author of “You Are Becoming a Galactic Human Being,” will read from her book at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Auntie’s Bookstore.
Carol Lee Flinders, co-author of “Laurel’s Kitchen,” will read from her new book “A Little Book of Women Mystics” at 8 p.m. Friday at Auntie’s Bookstore.
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